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(1) And passed through Jericho.—Better, and was passing through. The narrative that follows is peculiar to this Gospel.
(2) There was a man named Zacchæus, . . .—The name appears in the Old Testament in the form Zaccai (Ezra 2:9; Nehemiah 7:14), and meant “pure” or “innocent.” Rabbinic writers mention a Zacchæus as living at Jericho about this time, the father of a famous Rabbi, Jochanan or John.
The chief among the publicans.—The position of Jericho near the fords of the Jordan made it a natural trade-centre for the imports from the Gilead country—myrrh and balsam. Under the government of Herod and Archelaus it had become once more a city of palm-trees (Judges 1:16), and their dates and palm-honey were probably liable to an octroi duty. The “farming” system adopted in the Roman revenue probably gave Zacchæus the status of a middle-man or sub-contractor between the great capitalists of the equestrian order at Rome, the real publicani, and the “publicans” commonly so called, who were the actual collectors. As such he had as abundant opportunities for enriching himself as a Turkish pacha, and, as we may infer from his own words, had probably not altogether escaped the temptations of his calling.
(3) He sought.—Better, was seeking. The verb expresses vividly the oft-repeated attempts of the man, little of stature, to get a glimpse of the Prophet as He passed.
For the press.—The word is the same as that elsewhere rendered “multitude” or “crowd.” The motive is left to be inferred. It was not mere curiosity, for that would not have met with the Lord’s warm approval. Had he heard that there was a publican like himself among the chosen disciples of the Teacher whom the people were receiving as the Son of David? Had some one told him of the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican? Had the fame of the miracle wrought on the entrance into Jericho made him eager to see the Worker?
He was little of stature.—The individualising feature may be accepted, in connection with what follows, either as a touch of consummate art, or a note of artless truthfulness.
(4) And climbed up into a sycomore tree.—The name of “sycomore” has been variously applied—(1) to a species of maple (Acer pseudo-platanus); (2) to the mulberry (Morus nigra), more properly, “sycamine,” as in Luke 17:6; and (3) to the fig mulberry (Ficus sycomorus). The last is the tree here meant. It grew to a considerable height in the Jordan valley, and was much used by builders and carpenters (1 Kings 10:27). The care taken by St. Luke to distinguish between the “sycamine” of Luke 17:6 (where see Note), and the “sycomore” here, may fairly be noted as an instance of botanical accuracy, such as was likely to be found in a physician. We can picture the scene to our mind’s eye—the eager, wistful, supplicating face looking down from the fresh green foliage (it was early spring), and meeting the gaze of Jesus as He passed,
(5) To day I must abide at thy house.—The words gain a fresh significance, if we remember that Jericho was at this time one of the chosen cities of the priests. (See Note on Luke 10:30.) Our Lord passed over their houses, and those of the Pharisees, in order to pass the night in the house of the publican. There, we may believe, He saw an opening for a spiritual work which He did not find elsewhere.
(6) Received him joyfully.—The joy is significant as implying previous yearning, a desire for communion with the new Teacher, the wish to sit at His feet and drink in the words of eternal life.
(7) They all murmured.—Better, were all murmuring. It is significant that the murmur was not confined to a special section of rigorous Pharisees, but came from the whole crowd. The chief publican was clearly not popular, and probably the priestly tone of the place (see Note on Luke 19:5) gave additional strength to all caste feelings. We are carried forward in this verse from the promise to the performance. Our Lord was in the house when the murmurs found expression.
With a man that is a sinner.—The term was obviously used from the popular Pharisaic stand-point, as attaching necessarily to the calling of Zacchæus. He had placed Himself on a level with the heathen or the vilest Jew, and ought to be treated accordingly.
(8) Zacchæus stood, and said unto the Lord . . .—The word for “stood” is the same as that used in the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican (Luke 18:11). Too much stress has, perhaps, been laid on its supposed force as indicating self-assertion in both cases. It does not seem to imply more than that Zacchæus, in his own house, hearing the murmurs of those who looked in at doors or windows, rose from his couch, and stood up, and in the hearing of all, said what follows. The phrase, “unto the Lord,” indicates, as elsewhere, that the facts were recorded by St. Luke at a comparatively late period. (See Note on Luke 7:11.)
The half of my goods I give . .—It seems more natural to see in this the statement of a new purpose than that of an habitual practice. In the absence of any words implying a command of this nature, we must assume either that it was a spontaneous impulse of large-hearted devotion, or, possibly, that Zacchæus had heard of the command given but a few days before to the young ruler (Luke 18:22). The promise implies immediate distribution. The compensation for wrongs that men might have suffered at his hands was to come out of the remaining half.
If I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation.—The seven words of the English text are all needed to express the one Greek word, the same as that in Luke 3:14, where see Note. It is a pity that English usage, and the modern meaning of the words, do not allow us to say, “If I have sycophanted any man.” Conscience probably reproached Zacchæus with not a few of such acts of spoliation in the past. The Greek phrase, “If I have taken anything,” hardly implies doubt as to the fact, and is used like our English “wherever.”
I restore him fourfold.—Here, also, it seems best to recognise in the words a new purpose. He is ready to compensate now for whatever wrong had been done before. There seems, indeed, something almost ludicrously incongruous in a devout man boasting that his rule of life is to make amends to those whom he deliberately cheats, and the special force of the verb practically excludes the idea of involuntary wrong.
The Law required in cases of voluntary restitution the addition of one-fifth of the value of the thing restored (Leviticus 6:5; Numbers 5:6-7).
The whole force of the history seems lost if we suppose Zacchæus, as some have done, to have been a model of a virtuous publican before he sought to see Jesus. On that supposition his words are like those of the Pharisee in the parable, a self-righteous boast. The strivings of repentance must, indeed, have begun before, and the man, when he welcomed our Lord’s presence, and trusted His words, was “justified by faith.” Is it too utterly bold a conjecture that He who saw Nathanael under the fig-tree (John 1:48), had seen Zacchæus in the Temple, and that the figure in the parable of Luke 18:14, was in fact a portrait?
(9) This day is salvation come to this house.—The Greek tense, This day came there salvation to this house, has a force which it is not easy to express in English, implying that the salvation was already looked back upon as completed in the past. In one sense salvation had come in the personal presence of the Saviour, but we must remember all that the word implied—deliverance, not from the penalty only, but from the habit and the power of sin. This had come, and the words and acts of Zacchæus showed the fruits. And it comes to him because “he also is a child of Abraham.” The Abraham character was in him, as that of the true Israel was in Nicodemus (John 1:47). A son of Abraham, like him in his noble generosity (comp. Genesis 13:9; Genesis 14:23), was found where, to the common observer, it would have seemed as hopeless to look for one as among the stones of the Jordan valley (Matthew 3:9).
(10) The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.—Like words had been spoken once before, under circumstances that presented a very striking contrast to those now before us. Then the loving purpose of the Christ had for its object the “little child,” as yet untouched by the world’s offences (Matthew 18:2; Matthew 18:11): now it rested on the publican, whose manhood had been marred by them. The same law of work is reproduced in a more emphatic form. There it had been that He “came to save:” here it is that He came to “seek” as well.
(11) He added and spake a parable.—As in Luke 18:1; Luke 18:9, so here, it is characteristic of St. Luke that he states, more fully than is common in the other Gospels, the occasion and the purpose of the parable which follows. The verse throws light upon all the history that follows. In all previous visits to Jerusalem our Lord had gone up either alone or accompanied only by His chosen disciples. Now He was followed by a crowd,, gathering strength as they journeyed on, and roused, by their very nearness to the Holy City, to an almost uncontrollable excitement. The time for delay, they thought, had come to an end. He was about to claim the throne of His father David. The Kingdom of God would “immediately appear.” The parable shows us, and was, in part, meant to teach them, how the Master regarded the dreams of the disciples.
Should immediately appear.—Better, perhaps, should be shown forth, or manifested. The Greek word is not used by any other New Testament writer. It is clear, from the tenor of the parable, that disciples and multitude were alike dwelling on the greatness to which they were to attain, on the high places in store for them on the right hand and on the left, rather than on their work and their duties in relation to that Kingdom of God.
(12) A certain nobleman went into a far country.—See Notes on Matthew 25:14-30, with which the parable that follows has many obvious points of resemblance. There are, however, many noticeable differences in detail. At the outset we have the new feature of the nobleman going “into a far country to receive a kingdom.” This had an obvious starting-point in the recent history of Judæa. Both the Tetrarch Antipas and Archelaus, on the death of their father, had gone to Rome to submit their claims to the kingdom to the decision of Augustus (Jos. Ant. xvii. 9, §§ 3, 4). The Greek for “nobleman” is not the same as in John 4:46, where the word means a “king’s officer.” Here it is simply a “man of noble family.” In the interpretation of the parable we may see a prophetic announcement by our Lord of His own departure to the “far country,” that lay behind the veil, to receive His Kingdom, and of His subsequent return.
(13) And delivered them ten pounds.—In this, again, we have a noticeable difference. Here we begin with equality; in Matthew 25:15 the servants start with unequal amounts, “according to their several ability.” So far as we lay stress on the difference, it implies that the trust in this case is that which all disciples of Christ have in common—viz., their knowledge of the truth and their membership in the Kingdom, and not the offices and positions that vary in degree. The pound, or mna, was, in Greek numismatics, not a coin, but a sum equal to the sixtieth part of a talent. The Greek name was probably derived from the Hebrew Maneh. According to another estimate it was equal to 25 shekels, or 100 drachmœ? or denarii. The word meets us, as far as the New Testament is concerned, in this parable only.
Occupy till I come.—The better MSS. give, “while I am coming.” The Greek verb for “occupy” occurs in this passage only in the New Testament. A compound form of it is rendered, in Luke 19:15, by “gained in trading.” The English verb meets us in Ezekiel 27:9; Ezekiel 27:16; Ezekiel 27:21-22, in the sense of “trading,” in which it is used here. (See also the Prayer Book version of Psalms 107:23.)
(14) But his citizens hated him, and sent a message after him.—Here, also, recent history supplied a feature in the parable. This was precisely what the Jews had done in the case of Archelaus, both at the time referred to in the Note on Luke 19:12, and later on, when their complaints were brought before the Emperor, and led to his deposition and banishment to Gaul. That which answers to it in the inner meaning of the parable is the unwillingness of the Jews—or, taking a wider view of the interpretation, of mankind at large—to accept the law of Christ or acknowledge His sovereignty.
(15) It came to pass, that when he was returned.—See Note on Matthew 25:19. The absence of the words “after a long time” is noticeable, and suggests the thought that our Lord may have added them in the later form of the parable as a further safeguard against the prevalent expectations of the immediate coming of the Kingdom, and, we may add, against the thought which sprang up afterwards in men’s minds, that there was no kingdom to be received, and that the King would never return. (Comp. 2 Peter 3:4.)
Had gained by trading.—The Greek verb is a compound form of that translated “occupy” in Luke 19:13.
(16) Thy pound hath gained ten pounds.—The increase is on a larger scale than in the parable in Matthew 25:0. There each of the faithful servants gains as much again as he had received. Here the gain is tenfold (1,000 per cent.). Adopting the view which has been taken of the distinctive ideas of the two parables, it may be said that what is suggested is the almost boundless opening for good acquired by the simple acceptance of the truth, apart from the opportunities offered by special gifts and functions. So interpreted, the several grades of increase correspond to the thirty, sixty, and hundredfold in the parable of the Sower. (See Note on Matthew 13:23.)
(17) Because thou hast been faithful in a very little.—More literally, because thou didst become faithful. The words are in their substance like those in St. Matthew, but their absolute identity with those in the lesson drawn from the parable of the Unjust Steward (see Note on Luke 16:10) is every way suggestive. This parable is connected with that as its natural sequel and development.
Have thou authority over ten cities.—The truth implied in Matthew 25:21 (where see Note), that the reward of faithfulness in this life, and probably in the life to come, will be found in yet wider opportunities for work in God’s service, is stated here with greater distinctness. “Authority over ten cities” must have something corresponding to it, some energy and work of guidance, in the realities of the unseen world, and cannot simply be understood as fulfilled in the beatific vision or the life of ceaseless praise and adoration.
(20) Thy pound, which I have kept ., .—Literally, which I kept—i.e., all along. He had never made any effort at doing more.
Laid up in a napkin.—The smaller scale of the parable is shown in the contrast between this and the “hiding the talent in the earth,” in St. Matthew. The “napkin” (the Greek word is really Latin, sudarium) appears in Acts 19:12 as “handkerchiefs.” Such articles were naturally, then as now, used for wrapping up and concealing money which the owner wished simply to hoard.
(21) I feared thee, because thou art an austere man.—The Greek adjective (from which the English is derived) is not used elsewhere in the New Testament. Literally, it means dry, and so, hard and stiff. In 2Ma. 14:30 it is translated “churlish.” On the plea of the wicked servant, see Note on Matthew 25:22.
(22) Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee.—See Note on Matthew 25:26. These words are, perhaps, somewhat more emphatic than in the parallel passage. The very term which the servant had dared to apply to his lord, is repeated with a solemn impressiveness.
(23) Into the bank.—Literally, the table, or counter. The Greek substantive is the root of the word translated “exchangers” in Matthew 25:27 (where see Note).
That at my coming I might have required . . .—Literally, And when I came I should have got it with interest.
Usury.—The word is used (as in Matthew 25:27) in its older meaning, as including interest of any kind, and not exclusively that which we call usurious.
(25) And they said unto him, Lord . . .—The touch of wonder, perhaps of indignation, is peculiar to St. Luke. It can scarcely be thought of as simply an element of dramatic vividness. It foreshadows the feelings with which men have in all ages looked on those greater than themselves. They grudge the influence and opportunities for good which are transferred from those who have not used them to those that will. May we not think of some such feeling as working among those members of the Church of the Circumcision, who did not hold out to Paul and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship (Galatians 2:9)? When Galatia received the gospel from one who had already planted churches far and wide, St. Luke may well have seen in it an illustration of the pound taken from the slothful servant and given to him that had ten.
(26) Unto every one which hath shall be given.—This again takes its place among the oft-repeated axioms of our Lord’s teaching. It meets us after the parable of the Sower (Luke 8:18; Matthew 13:12; Mark 4:25), in that of the Talents (Matthew 25:29), and here. (See Notes on the several passages.)
(27) But those mine enemies.—This feature of the parable is peculiar to St. Luke’s report. Like the earlier portions of the outer framework of the story, it had an historical groundwork in the conduct of Archelaus on his return from Rome (Jos. Wars, ii. 7, § 3). Spiritually, it represents, in bold figures drawn from the acts of tyrant kings, the ultimate victory of the Christ over the unbelieving and rebellious. (Comp. 1 Corinthians 15:25.) They who will not have Him to reign over them will learn that He does reign, and having shut Love out, will themselves be shut out from Love.
(28) He went before, ascending up to Jerusalem.—Better, going up, as elsewhere throughout the New Testament. The words indicate the same mode of journeying as that which we have traced before—the Master going on in advance, and the disciples following. (See Notes on Luke 8:1; Mark 10:32.)
The journey from Jericho to Jerusalem was literally an ascent all the way (see Note on Luke 10:30), and in this sense, as well as following the language common to most nations, in speaking of their capitals, the verb might well be used. The English word “ascend,” however, is not used elsewhere in the New Testament of any earthly journeys.
(29-38) When he was come nigh to Bethphage and Bethany.—On the general narrative, see Notes on Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11. In details we note (1) that St. Luke unites the “Bethphage” of St. Matthew with the “Bethany” of St. Mark; (2) that, as a stranger to Judæa, he speaks of the “mountain that was called the Mount of Olives. Possibly, indeed, both here and in Luke 21:37, as certainly in Acts 1:12, he uses the Greek equivalent for Olivet (the Latin Olivetum, or “place of Olives”) as a proper name. The absence of the article before the Greek for “Olives,” and the accentuation of the words in many MSS., seem decisive in favour of this view.
(30, 31) Go ye into the village over against you.—The agreement with St. Matthew and St. Mark is singularly close.
(31) Because the Lord hath need of him.—See Note on Matthew 21:3 as to the meaning of the word “Lord” as thus used.
(33) The owners thereof.—In this instance St. Luke, though less graphic in his narrative generally, is more specific than St. Mark, who represents the question as coming from “some of those that stood by.” The use of the same Greek word for “owner” and for the “Lord” affords a striking example of the elasticity of its range of meaning.
(35) They cast their garments upon the colt.—St. Luke agrees with St. Mark in speaking of the “colt” only, not of the “ass.”
(36) They spread their clothes in the way.—Better, garments, the word being the same as in the preceding verse, and in both cases meaning the outer garment or cloak. (See Note on Matthew 5:40.) St. Luke, it may be noticed, does not mention the “branches of trees” of which St. Matthew and St. Mark speak. The verb implies the constantly repeated act of casting down the garments as the Lord rode on.
(37) The descent of the mount of Olives.—The Greek word for “descent” is not used by any other New Testament writer. As being a technical geographical word, it was one that might naturally be used by one who may have been a pupil of Strabo, or a student of his works. (See Introduction.)
To praise God.—The Greek verb is another instance of a word used by St. Luke (seven times) and St. Paul (twice), and by them only in the New Testament.
All the mighty works . . .—Literally, powers, and so works of power. The words probably refer to the recent miracle at Jericho (Luke 18:35-43; Matthew 20:29-34; Mark 10:46-52), and, as interpreted by St. John’s Gospel, the recent raising of Lazarus.
(38) Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest. The substitution of “glory” for the “Hosanna” of St. Matthew and St. Mark is characteristic of the Gentile Evangelist. The parallelism between the shouts of the multitude before the Passion, and the song of the angels at the Nativity (Luke 2:14) is, in many ways, suggestive. There the voices spoke of “peace on earth;” here the multitude, prophesying unconsciously, speak of “peace in heaven.”
(39) And some of the Pharisees.—The comparative brevity of St. Luke’s description is more than compensated by the interest of the two narratives that follow, and which are found in his Gospel only. The section of the Pharisees that spoke was probably that which had all along more or less acknowledged our Lord as a “Master” (i.e., Teacher or Rabbi), and were willing to give Him what they thought a fair share of respect as such. To go beyond that, to receive Him as the promised “He that cometh,” as “the king of Israel, the Christ,” seemed to them but the wild frenzy of the disciples, which the Master ought to check.
(40) If these should hold their peace.—Here, then, at the very moment when He foresaw most clearly His own approaching end, and the failure of all earthly hopes of the city over which He wept, our Lord accepted every word that disciples or multitude had uttered of Him as being in the fullest sense true.
The stones would immediately cry out.—The startling imagery had a precedent in the language of Habakkuk (Habakkuk 2:11), “The stone shall cry out of the wall, and the beam out of the timber shall answer it.”
(41) He beheld the city, and wept over it.—This, and the tears over the grave of Lazarus (John 11:35), are the only recorded instances of our Lord’s tears. It is significant that in the one case they flow from the intensity of personal friendship, in the other from that of the intense love of country which we know as patriotism. Neither element of character could well be wanting in the perfect pattern of a holiness truly human.
(42) If thou hadst known, even thou.—The emphatic repetition of the pronoun, as in Isaiah 48:15; Isaiah 51:12; Ezekiel 5:8; Ezekiel 6:3; Ps. ixxvi. 7, speaks of the strongest possible emotion. The broken form of the sentence, “If thou hadst known . . .,” with no corresponding clause as to what would then have followed; the “at least in this thy day,” the day that was still its own, in which it was called to repentance and action, all point to the words as being the utterance of the deepest human sorrow that the Son of Man had known.
The things which belong unto thy peace.—Literally, the things that make for, or tend to, peace. The Greek is the same as that translated “conditions of peace” in Luke 14:32 (where see Note); in this case, obviously, the “things that make for peace” are repentance, reformation, righteousness.
Now they are hid.—The Greek tense implies, by a distinction hard to express in English, in conjunction with the adverb “now,” that the concealment of the things that made for the peace of Jerusalem, was a thing completed in the past.
(43) The days shall come upon thee. We again come upon a cluster of words peculiar, as far as the New Testament is concerned, to St. Luke, and belonging to the higher forms of historical composition.
Shall cast a trench about thee.—The Greek substantive means primarily a stake, then the “stockade” or “palisade” by which the camp of a besieging army was defended, then the earth-work upon which the stockade was fixed. In the latter case, of course, a trench was implied, but the word meant the embankment rather than the excavation. The better MSS. give for “cast” a verb which more distinctly conveys the idea of an encampment.
(44) And shall lay thee even with the ground.—See Note on Matthew 24:2. What is there said of the Temple, is here repeated of the city as a whole, and describes a general demolition of everything that could be demolished. So Josephus (Wars, viii. 1, § 1) describes the work as being done so effectively that, with the exception of one or two towers and part of the walls, the fortifications were so laid even with the ground that there was nothing left to make those that came thither believe that that part of the city had been inhabited.
The time of thy visitation.—The phrase is not found in any other Gospel. The idea of “visitation” presents two aspects, one of pardon (Luke 1:68; Luke 1:78; Luke 7:16), the other of chastisement (1 Peter 2:12). In both, however, the act of “visiting” implied looking after, caring for, and so a purpose of mercy. Modern usage—especially, perhaps, the common legal phrase of a man’s dying by the “visitation of God,” of sickness being “His visitation”—has given undue prominence to the latter thought. Here it appears to include both. The Christ had visited it first with a message of peace. Then came the discipline of suffering, and Jerusalem knew not how to make a right use of either.
(45-48) And he went into the temple.—See Notes on Matthew 21:12-17; Mark 11:15-19. St. Luke apparently agrees with St. Matthew in thinking of the expulsion of the money-changers as taking place on the same day as the Entry. His narrative is here the least descriptive of the three.
(47) And he taught daily in the temple.—Literally, He was teaching.
The chief of the people.—Literally, the first of the people. The word is the same as in Mark 6:21, for “the chief estates” of Galilee. Here, apparently, it denotes those who, whether members of the Sanhedrin or not, were men of mark—notables, as it were—among the inhabitants of Jerusalem. As to the purpose ascribed to them, see Note on Mark 11:18.
(48) All the people were very attentive to hear him.—Literally, hung upon him as they heard. The Greek phrase is another of the words characteristic of St. Luke. Its force may be gathered by its use in the Greek version of Genesis 44:30, where it stands for “his life is bound up in” (or, hangs upon) “the lad’s life.”
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Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Luke 19". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29